Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
December 31, 2008
Standing on the dock in Antigua (sorry, but I just love beginning a mid-winter column that way), I stared up at the looming prow of the harbor’s Godzilla (or should I say yacht-zilla): a vast, hulking mega-yacht that measured somewhere around 300 feet long ” complete with a helicopter on the aft deck.
Moored right next to it was a yacht that, under any other circumstances, would have been the big dog, a sleek beauty that stretched about 200 feet.
How embarrassing. You spend millions on a 200-foot mega-yacht and ” oh snap! ” you come in a sad second-best to a boat that’s a full hundred feet longer.
And just imagine the chagrin of the yachts that were ” horrors! ” a mere 100 feet long.
Hey, loser! Head for open ocean and scuttle that pathetic thing. Buy yourself a real yacht or stay home.
Of course, the big boats in the harbor that day weren’t all motor yachts (or stinkpots, as some self-righteous sailing sorts call them).
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There were some staggeringly large sailboats in port, including one that looked to be well over 200 feet and, we were told, had a crew of 20.
But it seems that when it comes to sailboats these days, length isn’t the critical measurement. No, it’s the height of the mast that matters ” and you don’t really measure up unless you have a blinking red light at the top of your mast. You see, when a sailboat is anchored, its mast is supposed to be topped by a white light; but if your mast is more than 150 feet high, then it has to have a red light, a blinking red light ” as a warning to aircraft.
Joy to the world! My mast is so tall it’s a hazard to passing jets. (And tell that clown on the 300-foot stinkpot that his helicopter better watch out for my mast.)
The captain of our boat explained all this and added, “There are some guys out there with a bad case of mast envy.”
And naturally, I thought of Aspen.
A decade or so ago, when the first of the monster construction cranes began looming over downtown, certain local contractors were said to be suffering from crane envy. Can’t you just picture them begging their clients to let them rent one of those cranes?
And I bet some clients went along, because having one of those big babies on your job site means everyone’s moved up into the Big Time.
Make no mistake: Mast, crane, trophy home, or trophy wife’s trophy breasts ” bigger is always better.
Why do you think those houses on Red Mountain are so big?
No, really. This is a quiz. Why are those houses so big?
Time’s up. Pencils down.
Houses on Red Mountain need to be that big so they can be seen from the middle of Aspen, so the people who own them can stand downtown and point to their house and say, “That one’s mine.”
Hey, what’s the point of a $10 million house on Red Mountain if no one can see it?
Yes, there are some people who spent a lot of time carefully designing their Red Mountain homes so they would blend into the landscape and disappear. But those houses were mostly built decades ago, before people really understood the point of having money.
These days, people know that once you get to a certain level, money is definitely not used to buy things you need.
Another quiz: Who needs a 20,000-square-foot, 12-bedroom house on Red Mountain?
Answer: No one, that’s who. (Incidentally, that’s the same person who needs a 300-foot yacht, complete with helicopter.)
But, of course, it’s the word “needs” that makes the question irrelevant.
Try this one: Who wants that 12-bedroom house? Not “needs,” but “wants.”
Suddenly, the answer is a much, much longer list.
But ultimately the relevant question ” the “Aspen” question, if you will ” is this one: Who can afford that house?
Now our answer is a manageable list. The “can afford” list is longer than the “needs” list and shorter than the “wants” list ” and it’s shorter, for sure, than it was just a few months ago.
Oh yeah, much shorter.
And the length of that “can afford” list may be the big question for Aspen right now. Who can afford Aspen these days?
It has been said (by a local politician who was severely chastised for saying it) that a recession might be just what Aspen needs. A recession, the theory went, might bring the runaway real estate speculation under control.
Then, maybe people could afford to live here. Maybe local businesses could thrive here. Maybe life in Aspen would become somehow more … possible.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe a recession would just mean that the billionaires would find the place even more affordable ” and everyone else would still have their noses pressed against the glass.
Well, now we have that recession, so I guess we’ll see what happens to the market for trophy mansions.
It should make for an interesting year, don’t you think? A real thriller. Full of suspense.
I love a suspense story. As long as it doesn’t turn into a horror story.
Now I know there are those who would insist that the real issue is whether these trophy mansions are inherently evil ” regardless of who wants, needs or can afford them.
We all know the terms of that discussion: the sheer waste of resources, the pollution, the global warming.
But I think I’ll skip that debate for now. Not because it isn’t valid, but because … well, gee, the global impact of the mansions on Red Mountain (even including snow-melt driveways) pales in comparison to the impact of ” ta-da! ” methane produced by bovine flatulence.
And that brings us to our final quiz question of the day: Is any given bigger-is-better Aspen mansion (or 300-foot yacht) more or less objectionable than a cow fart? This is an essay question. Contrast and compare. Be specific.
Happy New Year.
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